Unresolved: Neshaminy versus the PHRC

More stories from Madison Pickul

The fifth day of the hearing between Neshaminy  High School and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Committee took place on January 11. While Neshaminy had a number of witnesses arguing for the continuation of the use of the word R–skin as the high school’s mascot, but that didn’t derail the PHRC from making strong points and hitting them back.

Throughout the hearing, most of the witnesses for Neshaminy argued for the use of the word, stating it brought a sense of pride to the community. However when the PHRC would cross examine they could get almost all of the witnesses to agree that the term R–skin could be considered offensive.

One of the witnesses, Jessica McClelland, a former managing editor of the Playwickian, spoke about her experience of dealing with the use of the word and its repercussions. While McClelland was a student she didn’t know of any students harmed by the word and she herself at that time didn’t see anything wrong with the use of the term. After she graduated and went off the college McClelland’s view of the word changed and she realized it wasn’t a word that should be used, “You can still be ignorant. It can still be hurtful.”

Stephen Pirritano, a member of the school board is all for the use of the term R–skin and doesn’t see a problem with the use of the word. Pirritano believes that the term, “goes to the culture of our are. It’s engraved everywhere.” Pirritano cause quite the stir with some of the comments has made while testifying, like learning about Native Americans in school by using red paint.  Pirritano also compared the bounties placed on the Native Americans by the “white men” to when African Americans invaded Sicily where they killed all the men and impregnated the women, chalking it up the be a racial history event.

The main point that the PHRC was trying to make to those for the use of the term is that, people are unaware of what it is they are honoring. Mabel Negrete, a woman who describes herself as a person with indigenous descent from Chili, feels as if the people of Neshaminy don’t know who they are trying to honoring. Negrete feels that a “school primarily of European decent should rethink [the use of the term].” While she didn’t speak before the PHRC, she watched the hearing and expressed her distaste for the term.

During his testimony, Doctor Robert McGee, the former principal of Neshaminy High School admitted that he thinks the school district could do a better job on educating their students about local Native American culture.

The hearing ended unresolved on Friday and once all testimony is gathered and legal briefs are filed by July 1, the PHRC hearing examiner Carl Summerson shall make a ruling and forward that to the PHRC for a vote. This decision is expected to take several months. Both sides are able to appeal the verdict once it has been given.